An interview of Brian Schwartz, Ph. D, by Frank Bordonaro, Ph. D.

Summary: Two talent management goals that get increasing attention these days are: 1) the individual’s quest for career fulfillment and, 2) the organization’s desire to get extraordinary results by tapping deep motivational wells.

In the first case, new generations of workers have sought, even demanded, a degree of life fulfillment and satisfaction from their work. Career advisors from the high school through the retirement phases have become more and more concerned with helping individuals assess the world of work, all in pursuit of “best fit” careers and jobs.

In the second case, companies continue their fevered search for the change management and employee motivation techniques that will align their people with the company’s mission.

What’s been more elusive is the connection between the two: How might a company think through the puzzle of linking passion and mission, and then take action to make it happen? Here, veteran CLO Frank Bordonaro (from the company mission perspective) interviews career guru and business associate Dr Brian Schwartz, in pursuit of some answers.

Frank Bordonaro: It hasn’t been so long ago that parents wanted their kids to get tough summer jobs as a dose of reality, so they would hit the books, get into college and get a desk job. Now everyone seems to expect so much more from work. Aren’t we just getting too affluent for our own good?

Brian Schwartz: Actually, it’s a mistake to think of the search for work fulfillment as a simple affliction of wealth. For one thing, the phenomenon is global, and not restricted to the most affluent countries or the wealthy classes. It is the reach for a better life, not the current level of affluence that counts.

The emerging economies of China and India are only the most striking examples of a phenomenon permeating the world wide job market, i.e., the emergence of an educated class seeking better lifestyles who have far more facility with modern technology than their parents, schools, employers and governments.

The youth of Eastern Europe , Turkey, Thailand , Malaysia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and South and Central America are on the threshold of a new, technological order in which the emerging generations are able to bypass established centers of control and get to information, know-how and interconnections that raise expectations ever higher.

B: When I see companies trying to address these higher expectations, it looks like a coming train wreck. Competition is squeezing profit margins throughout the global economy. The very information age you mention is also a source for dramatic increases in productivity. Often this means spending less on payroll, not more. The workforce is being fragmented, outsourced, value chained and cut to the bone at every turn. How can companies hope to do more with less and less?

S: One result of this pincer effect is that employers have been mightily struggling to retain good talent, motivate people and focus them on business goals. It is little wonder that “employee engagement” has become a rallying cry.

From: Frank p. Bordonaro, Ph. D and Brian Schwartz, Ph. D. The Trainer’s Portable Mentor, Gargiulo, T.,
Pangarkar, A., and Kirkwood, T. , eds., 2008, Jossey Bass/Pfeiffer, (CD supplement)
Bordonaro and Schwartz are Co-founders of CareerDNA, LLC.

As talent development professionals, irrespective of country or culture, we have a major task before us in helping youth to negotiate their transition from learning power to earning power in a way that maximizes use of each person’s natural talents, interests and abilities. And I would caution that this is not merely a “young person’s” issue. I see people at all career stages who are looking for a more fulfilling relationship to work.

To me, the critical issue is “growth’ and it applies both to the business and the individuals. The basics of the new value proposition for both sides are “we are going to grow together—the better, stronger, higher –performing you are, the better off our organization is.”

As I work with people who are looking for better value from a career, personal growth is often mentioned, not as a commercial tactic to get higher pay, but as an end in itself .People simply want to matter and to experience themselves getting better and better. Those are very personal needs; people have to be engaged from the inside out. Too bad so few companies have been able to tune into the intrinsic needs of their employees in any practical way.

B: So, let’s get practical. How can a company begin to understand this” inside” part?

S: When I sit down with clients, we focus on five essential and building blocks: work type and temperament, work personality, occupational and related content interests, work-related values and most centrally “skills DNA”, which is the configuration of the person’s skills they most passionately want to use in their work. Each of these building blocks is backed up by decades of research and clinical practice. I have found Bernard Haldane, David Kiersey, John Crystal and Richard Bolles particularly helpful. What I do is help people put the pieces together, identify career options they then align with and create strategies for securing ideal work.

B: Without getting too deep into the theory, what comes out of these building blocks that an employer can actually use?

S: Let’s accept the premise that job FIT is the shared goal of both the person and the organization—the key, if you will, to mutual growth. Type and Temperament tells you what kinds of work tasks, roles and environments are most suited to a person. We’ve all known the desk man who quickly becomes unhappy when pushed into a sales role, or the self-starting lab rat who suddenly has a boss looking over his shoulder, or the free thinker who struggles having to deal with bureaucracy and regulations. These are examples of bad Type and Temperament fit. You can of course see that there are other types of people who might thrive under these same conditions.

Work personality is the collection of personality and character traits that someone brings to the world of work. Are you honest, socially participative, trusting, self-sufficient, perfectionist, emotionally mature, poised under pressure, etc.? In the world of career counseling, we call these self-management skills.

Occupational interests seem to come from a mysterious blend of early experience and the person’s intuition or instinct about the work they are most attracted to. They provide practical clues about the person’s future FIT. But how many times have we heard someone say “from the time I was 10 I knew I wanted to be … (a vet, a singer, an architect, a novelist, a soldier cartoonist, a farmer—you name it). What I have found is this: if you present an individual with a number of occupational themes or areas of work, they will often express strong preferences, pro or con.

Work related values are the internal sources of attraction and repulsion vis a vis a company’s culture. I have had many clients who have strong desires to improve the lives of others, even if it means personal sacrifice. A culture which is highly competitive and cutthroat will not be a good fit. I have other clients who cannot get enough competition. A supportive, company where “everybody gets a trophy” will not be a fit. I think you get the idea.

“Skills DNA” is shorthand for those transferable skills a person has passionately enjoyed during the most significant and enjoyable experiences of their lives. After years of research and observation, it appears there about 100 of these skills that account for the major functions that people select as the most important for them. By helping people to recall peak experiences and deconstructing those experiences for the enjoyed skills, we are able find the crème de la crème—those few skills that have the person saying: “If I can find work that challenges me to deliver these skills day after day, I will truly love my work and be devoted to the organization that provides it.

B: Now we’re getting down to the elusive person-company connection points. Since you and I have worked together on this very topic, I know you have strong convictions. What should our readers know?

S: First of all, fit is three dimensional, as I show in this diagram below. In the old way of thinking, people were chosen for roles based on what they knew and what they had accomplished. But there is a third dimension that has been more or less overlooked or only casually considered. By understanding the essence of who people are, we discover the treasures as well as the intrinsic limitations within each of us. This enables both employers and employees to make both long and short term work assignment and career decisions accordingly.

B: Hold on, aren’t you ignoring all those high-potential programs, where elite talents are put on fast tracks and such? That’s an investment in future values, isn’t it?

S: Granted, but those programs usually deal with estimates of what the person was expected to accomplish and expected to learn, factors still confined to the two dimensions. The third dimension is “who the person is”, their “hard wiring”, those very elements that I mentioned earlier. Once you accept the premise that people basically want to “ do what they are “ as Paul Tiegerand Barbara Tieger Barron have so concisely put it, all that remains is to create a language that allows person and employees to work towards fit.

B: And this is where the organization side of the equation comes in. In our shared practice we use the type and temperament language familiarly employed by Myers Briggs, (though you’ve always maintained your method is better!). An important addition for us has been the language of skills, specifically the transferable skills that the person carries with them from situation to situation throughout their careers.

S: Correct, and these” transferable skills” are specific and observable. Employers usually have no trouble identifying the specific skills needed to do a good job, once the role is specified and the skills are clearly defined.

We have found that 12 is a good working number for a set of skills that a person can identify as their “crème de la crème”, and companies are just as adept at choosing the twelve that are most critical for success in a role.

B: Its easy to see how a side-by side comparison of these two lists might show me why I’m NOT qualified aligned with for a job, but how do you make this interesting , even exciting for the person seeking more fulfillment at work.

S: The secret here is to know which skills are more or less subject to improvement and which are just not very changeable over time. For those hard-to-acquire skills, the very best approach is to opt out before the fact. It’s much better for both employer and candidate to know ahead of time, through the language of skills, whether a good fit is likely. Please note that failure to do this has made a lot of very smart and talented people unhappy. What they do is use their abilities to fake good on tests and interviews, always selling. Eventually, they end up in my office feeling strangely unfulfilled at work. I predict that in the near future more and more companies will be engaging candidates in a structured conversation about fit, and not a moment too soon.

B: And what about those transferable skills?

S: This is where talent development begins to make a huge contribution. Provided that the person has a critical mass of skills, say seven, that are in alignment with their role or prospective role, talent development can immediately begin to interface learning assets ( on the job practice, coaching, simulations, shadowing programs, coursework) against specific skills. What you end up with is whole sections of an organization working as individuals (and in skill –matched learning groups) working to get better and better at skills the organization needs them to use. All the while they are strengthening skills they have always enjoyed. What, I ask, could be better than that?

B: Now that we’ve gotten into it, the business of connecting passion with mission doesn’t seem like the fuzzy dream it might have. Thanks for helping us connect the dots.

S: You’re welcome. Thank you!

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Brian Schwartz is a psychologist and a leading expert in the fields of Career and Talent Management with a practice that extends 32 yearsand includes over 1700 career planning clients, over 500 executive assessments and several hundred additional assessments and coaching assignments incorporate and university settings. He founded CareerDNA, LLC with partners in May, 2004.

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